Residents Would Have to Pay to Remove Toxic Soil at Merrie Christmas Park, Commissioner Says

After days of flyers, signatures, and rising passion among neighbors who want a massive pile of toxic soil removed from Merrie Christmas Park in Coconut Grove, city officials at a hearing last night argued in favor of a much cheaper plan to cover the toxic soil with two feet of clean soil. In fact, one commissioner said, residents would have to pay to remove the soil.

"The process of digging it up and getting it out, we don't have the ability of doing that without allowing some of it to get in the air and knowing the danger," Richard Weisman, director of the Florida Poison Information Center, said at the meeting, the Miami Herald reported.

See also: City Quietly Labels Toxic Parks "Brownfield Sites," Limiting Neighborhood Input In Cleanup

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff added that if residents insisted on removing the soil, they'd have to raise $50,000 to help cover the cost. That didn't sit well with local activists.

"In my opinion, it's the city's responsibility," Ken Russell, the resident leading the effort, told Riptide earlier in the week after he learned of the city's position. "Whether or not we raise the funds, the city shouldn't be doing it this way."

The popular Coconut Grove park was closed last September when inspectors found toxins, such as arsenic, barium, cadmium, and lead, in its soil, leftover from a long-gone incinerator. In July the park was quietly labeled a brownfield site, placing a potential black eye on local property values, and just a few weeks ago residents were incensed when they learned the city planned to redistribute and cover, rather than remove, the contaminated soil.

Since the meeting last night, some residents have retained attorneys to help in their effort. Russell told Riptide that if the city didn't take enough responsibility for the cleanup, he and his supporters planned to rally the community, including residents around five other parks where toxic soil has also been found, to push the city to step up.

"We're going to become such a nuisance," he said, "that they will find the money to do this park right."

Send your tips to trevor.bach@miaminewtimes.com, or follow @trevorbach.

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